The Inertia Founder
Jeffreys Bay Lineup

The problem is that the ASP undervalues its own existence. They think they’re just a sanctioning body, so they defer responsibility to their patrons, which is ironic, because once upon a time, the ASP took itself very seriously. More J-Bays in 2012, please. Photo: ASP/Getty

The Inertia

I feel sorry for the ASP. In the very serious world of professional surfing, there is only one true constant: The ASP is a perpetual punching bag – not only for fans, but also for pundits, pros, and peripatetic surfers worldwide. At the risk of being patronizingly ironic, I’d like to offer an unsolicited consultation to ameliorate the ASP’s most recent run of location-based condemnation. So here goes: ASP, once you recognize the value of your product, set your own terms and stick to them, you’ll feel much better. And so will we.

After the public bemoaned the atrocious conditions in Brazil and the conspiratorial “Big City Tour” (with additions in New York City, San Francisco, and a new WQS event in Sydney 2012) all eyes darted contemptuously at ASP officials as if they were wholly culpable in executing egregious scheduling blunders. That sounds reasonable at first glance. The problem is – they don’t see it that way – as evidenced by a recent, desperate plea propositioning brands (or anyone, including our grandmothers) to fund a new event at G-Land. “Only you can restore the Dream Tour. Oh, it costs 3 million dollars. Make it happen!” – Love, The ASP 8) .

Thus far, their plea has gone unanswered. More importantly, the gesture revealed a pathetic imbalance of power in their operation and in competitive surfing overall.

“We are just a sanctioning body,” said Meg Bernardo, Executive Manager for ASP North America in a phone interview in March. “We don’t have those funds to actually sponsor events so we have to rely on the outside to come forward to put up money to fund the events.”

And therein lies the problem. The ASP undervalues its own existence. They think they’re just a sanctioning body, so they defer responsibility to their patrons, which is ironic, because once upon a time, the ASP took itself very seriously.

For instance, did you know that the ASP has an 87-page rule book chock-full of detailed regulations about how their athletes must carry themselves? I’m not sure if the ASP knows about it either, because I swear they’d be able to fund their events on fines alone if they enforced the assiduously detailed list of rules. (Exaggeration.) Just for fun, let’s break out the abacus and laugh our way to the bank. From the ASP Rule Book:

–      Profane or abusive language at an event venue: $1,000 – $5,000

–       Failure to attend a media event (if asked): $2,000

–       Failure to attend a post-event press release: $2,000

–       Failure to attend WQS events entered: $500 – $2,000

–       Equipment abuse (person’s own equipment): $500 – $1,500

–       World Champion not attending all events during the year of his/her title: $10,000 per event.

–       Failure to compete to the best of one’s ability during all events: $5,000 – $50,000

–       Verbal Assault: $1,000 – $3,000

–       Physical Assault: $5,000 – $15,000

Also worth mentioning is article 163.01, which permits drug testing at any ASP event. The consequences for a positive test result require a one-year suspension from competition as well as the forfeiture of championships, titles, and rankings for the season in which the violation occurs. I’m not sure if a drug test has ever happened in the ASP’s history. Maybe it has. I don’t know.

Drug policy aside, based exclusively on the rule book, the ASP is an organization with bite, and one that takes its authority seriously. It’s not a powerless infrastructure that begs for sponsorship to subsist; I’d like to see them embrace their power as the world’s premier competitive surfing body. Chin up, chest high!

Set your terms confidently. Don’t beg for events (especially not publicly). When negotiating the 2012 schedule, slam your fist on the table, look your sponsors square in the eye, and say: “If you want to sponsor an event on the ASP World Tour™, here are your options: G-Land, Jeffreys Bay, Rincon, etc…. Your surfers better show up. On time. And no cussing. Or else.”

Then, and only then, can the ASP claim accountability for its product. If it continues to see itself as a toothless vessel for brands to craft their image, it will never earn the respect required to legitimize surfing as a competitive sport (which I think is their end game). It’s just an attitude shift, really. There’s always room for good-natured compromise and collaboration, but it’s worthwhile to remind sponsors that ­if professional surfing and world championships are as important and influential to the global surfing community as they claim, the ASP is sitting on gold. And their sponsors better respect that.

  • ctwalrus

    “We are just a sanctioning body,”<—– thats the problem. ASP has a rule book but does not enforce it.   The sport needs a GOVERNING Body….set rules and conditions and enforce them.    set a schedule and rule it.       maybe the personal disasters of the past will not continue to occur( archy, occy, andy, et al)….    every Real Sport has a governing body, where is surfing ?

    • Neversaidnever

      ASP IS the sanctioning, licensing & governing body. Knowing Meg, I feel her comment is almost certainly out of context.

  • Johnny Reb

    Awesome article!  The ASP has to become self aware or they’ll disappear!  I hate to think this organization is relegating themselves as just a Sanctioning Body.  It’s diluting the value of becoming World Champion.  

    I really enjoy the idea I’ve read on another site about cutting the tour down to size.  16 of the best surfers on the planet, surfing the best waves mother nature can provide.  With a smaller group of competitors and a shorter running time, the cost won’t be upwards of $3 million to hold an event, and the ASP might be able to shop around for other sponsors instead of begging the surf brands for money, continuing further down the incestuous path these endemic brands force on the surf fans.

    Young pros need to get off their knees and stop sucking off big brands to get the money they need to survive.  Break off and start new clothing companies, new shoe companies, new board companies, new video companies, new online publications.  Make the Quicksilvers and Billabongs of the world disappear as the sell outs that they are.  These brands sold out surfers, so they can sell more clothes in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.  Let them die slow, exactly like they deserve to.

    Fascism means that Corporations run the Government.  In surfing, corporations run your (ASP) government.  PROFESSIONAL SURFING IS A FACIST INSTITUTION! 

    If any pros are reading this, let me tell you that nothing feels better than being in control of your own destiny.  The surfing public and the surfing pros need to relegate the mega surf clothing manufactures back to the stone age.  Let them wither and die.  Let the youngsters start anew and create a bright tomorrow, FOR THEMSELVES!  …like the inertia is doing.

    Thank you Zach and Company!

    P.S. Is Lewis Samuels still nailed to the cross?  Why can’t he pen some of his genius in this here inertia?

  • Stu

    amen, brudda.  Duke education might be what’s needed to turn the ASP around.  No more dumb surfers running the show.

  • Steve Stampley

    Interesting thoughts.  Does the ASP have the wherewithal to go toe to toe with the Quik, Billabong, etc?  I would assume a lot of licensing power comes from TV dollars, which they don’t have.

    Here’s another way to think about it – If the ASP pulls it’s sanction from an event it doesn’t want – say San Francisco – what happens to the event?  If the sponsors are able to move forward, would it render the ASP less relevant than sanctioning an event at an undesirable location.

    • Neversaidnever

      No sanction = no pro surfers in the event. Surfers want prize money and waves – and are involved in the decision to sanction SF / NYC etc. 

  • The Coach

    Best take on things I’ve read in a while. Good work

  • Chris Cote

    Great article.

    Although i don’t think I’d sell many magazine subscriptions on the beach at Rincon, there’s not enough parking.

    • Stu

       Sell subscriptions?  Giving away a leash that costs $20 along with a subscription that costs $11 isn’t actually selling.

      • BillyK

        What happened between you and TWS, my friend? No one expects 5-star journalism from them, but you seem to have the axe of all axes to grind with Cote and TWS. The mags are essentially all the same, just different logos on the cover. You’re an opinionated fella, but your disdain for TWS seems to get in your way sometimes. Maybe just go to lunch or call ’em up and get it out of your system.

        • Stu

          TWS is the mag I love to hate most.  It’s the worst of the best, or best of the worst, I’m not sure which. 

  • CoriS

    Without surf brands/sponsors, the ASP would simply not exist. I would love to be a fly on the wall if the International Olympic Committee decided to take on surfing and decided to take a good, hard look at the ASP…

    “Sanctioning fees” (these two words really mean “ASP Salary”) are paid for by the sponsors running the events. The ASP shows up with judging equipment and video/computers, collects its fees, throws some judges up (hotel rooms, food, transportation, etc.), hunkers down behind the equipment, counts points, talks about rules/rule book/changes to rule book… parties with the surfers, packs up then leaves for the next destination. Pretty much everything else is dependent on the sponsors/event planners/surf brands… permits, locations, announcer, organizing and paying for the whole thing. Here is an excerpt from one of the ASPNA meetings I went to back in 2009 talking about costs (keep in mind this is longboarding so it is at the very lowest end of the spectrum… and a two day event. The amounts do not include prize money):”Right now, it costs someone who wants to run a WLT event $25,000 US to get an ASP sanction. For this amount, the ASP pays for a staff of 10 to travel, the wages of the media officer, an ASP rep, the ASP photographer, website costs, to host the event on the ASP site. From what H said, the “other costs” of an event can add up to an additional $25,000 US (permits, etc.). Because of the high costs, there are very few WLT events right now.”Even when the ASP does the leg-work and gets a non-endemic company to sign a contract with the ASP to sponsor the tour (which usually and very simply means the non-endemic company simply puts up the prize money while other, typically endemic sponsors and event planners pay the ASP sanctioning fees, organize and run the events) they rarely, if ever, re-sign for another contractual term. Oxbow is an endemic example of this dynamic. They had a contract with the ASP to be the umbrella sponsor for the men’s longboard tour (again, sorry it’s longboarding… but it’s what I know and this applies across the board), which gave them “first right of refusal”… another phrase for franchise monopoly for as long as Ox wants it. Oxbow puts up the money for the prize purse only and others, those who organize and run the event (wherever the organizers can afford to run it), pay all the rest. The ASP and the surf industry are symbiotic. No one gets fined because that amount would come out of the surf brands’ pockets… though I have to admit I am a little nervous about the fining of a World Champion bit… though I think the ASP may be too embarrassed to say anything given that they neglected to send an invitation to either Duane Desoto (Men’s World Longboard Champ, 2010) or myself for their Awards Ceremony in OZ this year… we both found out about it two days before the event when we received an email asking us for the address they should send the limo to… oops. And… after three years paying ASPNA membership dues, two ASP North American Championship titles (2008,2009) being an “ASP longboard rep” for a year and my entire life living in California, I somehow managed a status as a world champ from (HAW) in the official press release. Pesky kids!   

    • hector chavez

      Me. Me. It’s all about me.

      • Stu

        seriously.  Self-importance is starting to take on a whole new meaning here…

  • CoriS

    Meg Bernardo has been a constant, positive force in the ASP for as long as I have participated in the ASP (shortboard or longboard). I have experienced her as being honest, hardworking (specifically and vocally on behalf of the surfers), transparent and communicative.

  •     ” I’m not sure if a drug test has ever happened in the ASP’s history. Maybe it has. I don’t know”
    I recall the whole Neco Padaratz cluster that happened in 2004/5.  But not sure if that test was instigated by the ASP or the French Ministry Sports.  There was a suspension levied by the ASP.  To this day if you look up Neco Padaratz on google, you get ‘Neco Padaratz Drugs’ as one of the top searches, which is punishment enough. 
    A separate article on ASP drug policy and (lack of) enforcement of that policy would be an interesting read, especially in light of recent events. 

    • Nick Carroll
      • Enoch Ward

        Hey Mr. Carroll,

        You wrote that article on 06/10/11 and said “Next week: The team dynamic: how pro surfers are overseen by their managers and agents – or not.”

        How is that article coming along? Who knew, real journalism in surfing is starting to happen(?)

        I’d love to hear A.I.’s manager’s name mentioned and his agent as well. Us peasant, bracelet-less fans of surfing aren’t usually privy to that sort of information. I’m sure they have some excellent reasons for not being in that fateful Dallas hotel room. That article would be swell considering A.I.’s death is the biggest surfing story in ages. And I know it’s now June, and people are just now starting to shine a bit of light into the murky waters of the ASP, but these kinds of stories would have been a big help years ago.

        Truth should not be trifled with.

  • Surfshrink

    BTW, nice read Zach.

  • Realist

    This is all just naive navel gazing. The asp is the brands. The brands are the asp. In particular ripaquikbong. Once you understand this everything makes sense. It’s not about the surfers. It’s not about the surfing audience. And its certainly not about the surfing.

    It’s about selling shirts and shorts. As many as possible, as easily as possible and as profitably as possible.

  • Nick Carroll

    The ASP is a lot of things. One thing it isn’t is a promotor. It doesn’t have a sales force, it doesn’t have a fan club, and it’s ceded its aces in the hole, the event broadcasting rights – the thing that makes, say, the NFL a mega force in sports – back to the franchisees… which are to a franchisee almost infinitely wealthier, more employee-rich, and more prepared to run shit. The only people in pro surfing who’re bigger than the franchisees are the surfers — and then only when they all get together and chuck a major fit. Which every 10 or so years, they do.

    The ASP is sitting on gold all right — just not their gold.

    • Stu

      is this by choice, due to a lack of vision or leadership, or something else?  As shown by the failed “Slater Tour”, the surfers and brands need the ASP, or something like it.  But when you have a guy like Rabbit (great surfer, but did he even finish high school?) running the show, things like strategy and sound management policy go out the window.

    • Nicole Grodesky

       I beg to differ on the comment that the ASP doesn’t have a fan club. Their Facebook page has almost 200,000 fans. In comparison to other sports it’s really small,but they do have fans. Now how they position themselves, that’s another story. I’ve also heard the ASP North America considers itself a non-profit. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Any ideas? 

  • Nick Carroll

    Yes and guess what, the surfers LIKE the idea of big city events! A million bucks and the attention of New York City for 10 days? Are you kidding me?? They want to draw some crowds for a change. If the pros did not like SF/NYC, those events would not be occurring. I think some of us are struggling with this self evident truth.

    • Chris Dixon

      Word to the Carroll on this one. I’d love to sit on Ocean Beach during a macking west, or Lido during a hurricane swell and watch the ASP compete in heaving beachbreak peaks in person. Exposure in the NYTimes or the SFChronicle reaches way the hell more of a mainstream audience than a webcast from a malarial Indonesian jungle. Plus, shoots, it’s way more fun to party in Montauk than a malarial Indonesian jungle too. I dunno. I don’t much mind these urban events so long as there’s a JBay, Bells and Pipe Master’s thrown in. 

    • CoriS

      I also wonder if pro surfers support these events because it costs less to travel to these city locations for the majority of those on the elite tour. That’s more money in the bank for pro surfers (a welcome change, especially for those who had contracts in place based on “Dream Tour” cost-analysis forecasts). Additionally, it is incredibly tiring traveling for days, with multiple airline changes, to get to a contest only to turn around and do it again for the next event. SF/NYC/Sydney are a cake-walk in comparison. 

      • Stu

        Yes, flying to NYC is far less expensive for Aussies than flying to Indo.  

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